Is a broken dog tooth an emergency?
Original Question: I have an 8-year-old neutered Lab. He has badly chipped off corners of his 2 upper back canines but they are not bothering him. I could see the dentin exposed on one of these teeth. Should I have them removed ASAP? How will this affect his eating? I feed him hard kibble. Thank you. - Joy
Thanks for your question. Chipped, worn and broken teeth are a fairly common problem in our canine patients. I’ll clarify the difference between these problems. Wear (also called attrition) usually occurs slowly over time as the enamel (white outer portion) of the tooth is worn away. Dogs with severely worn teeth usually have a history of chewing on hard or rough items, including tennis balls and cage bars. The affected teeth become flattened over time and the body responds by forming something called “tertiary dentin,” which helps cover and protect the pulp cavity. This usually has a dark brown appearance. In most cases, these teeth will not need treatment, but a thorough dental exam and X-rays are the only way to determine that the pulp cavity is healthy.
A chip or fracture or broken dog tooth that affects the pulp cavity is a different scenario. These usually happen when the dog chews on something harder than the enamel – this might include bones, antlers or similar items. They can also occur as a result of a traumatic accident (for example, a fall or hit by a car). Since it does not happen slowly over time, the body doesn’t have time to make its protective dentin layer to seal the sensitive pulp tissue. In these cases, treatment should be sought immediately. If the pulp cavity is exposed, the teeth will either need to be removed (extracted) or have endodontic therapy and sealing done in order to preserve the tooth. Endodontic treatments usually require referral to a board-certified veterinary dental specialist. If there is pulp exposure and the tooth is left untreated, it will be painful and there will be a risk of the dog developing a secondary infection in and around the tooth.
I would suggest you consult with your veterinarian about your dog’s teeth. The best way to determine if the teeth are causing a problem is to have a complete oral health assessment, cleaning and X-rays performed by your veterinarian under anaesthesia. Carefully probing the teeth and examining X-rays (which show the internal tooth structure and surrounding bone) will determine the best course of action. I hope this is helpful for you.
Best of luck.
Dr. Kim Hester
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